Mikel Stowers knew the gravity of the moment.
As the junior stepped onto the mat at the Amicalola Classic in Dawsonville on Dec. 27, he felt more excitement than usual in what, on the surface, looked like an ordinary tournament match. He was just one win away from a career milestone, one that’s hard to reach at his stage of his high school wrestling career: 100 career victories.
“When I went out there, I was so hyped,” Stowers said. “I had 99 wins and so I was like, ‘I've got to hit my 100th win right now. I was thinking about it. Just go out there and wrestle your best and give it your all.”
And judging by the way the bout went, he certainly did that. Securing the win with a pin after just 22 seconds, Stowers further cemented his place as one of the current cornerstones of Forsyth Central’s wrestling program.
“That (accomplishment) means you've got to be a contributing starter as a freshman,” Forsyth Central wrestling coach Russell Transue said. “At 7A, that's pretty tough, and he got it midway through his junior year. It's an impressive milestone. It just shows a level of consistency starting from freshman year.”
But that kind of stability was almost interrupted, and his 100th win almost never happened. At the tail end of his sophomore year, Stowers hurt his shoulder during regionals, finding out later that he had torn three ligaments. He was out for six months after that, and with that kind of injury, the desire to come back and wrestle again started to fade away.
“At that point, I was like, ‘I don't even know if I want to go back out there and wrestle,’” he said. “I was away from it for so long — I was used to not wrestling and not being a student-athlete.”
Eventually, though, the love of the sport began to emerge in Stowers again, with the help of a few familiar faces.
“One of the older wrestlers I used to wrestle with came and talked to me and really changed the way I looked at it,” Stowers said. “Coach Transue is a big part of it. Him talking to me, telling me that they could really use me on the team and that I'm looked at as a team leader. That's what I came here to do, to lead the team.”
Getting back into the routine of what being a wrestler entails was hard for Stowers at first, but he’s settled back in. He took first place at 138 pounds in the Amicalola Classic, and he earned second at the Santa Slam tournament at South Forsyth.
To Transue, the way he’s bounced back isn’t surprising.
“He's oblivious to the score,” Transue said. “He doesn't care — If he's down 13-1, he's still out there swinging. Nothing ever gets in his head. The brighter the lights, the bigger he shines.”
Stowers isn’t content with where he is, though, or where is team is, for that matter. The Bulldogs earned the region championship in traditionals last year, but fell to South as the No. 1 seed in the region duals, a loss that they’re hoping to bounce back from.
“That haunted us for a long time, but we're a whole lot better than we were last year in my opinion,” Stowers said. “We're a lot stronger, more focused.”
And as an individual, he has some goals of his own: He finished fifth in the state last year, and even with two more chances to come out on top, he’s eyeing the end of this season for another milestone moment.
“I want to win state this year,” Stowers said. “I've got to keep working hard. I believe it can happen.”